Although AIWDA’s campaign against fairness creams seems to have had a modest impact on changing the advertising message, it has not slowed the demand for fairness creams. Sales of Fair & Lovely, for example, have been growing 15 to 20 percent year over year, and the $318 million market for skin care has grown by 42. 7 percent in the last three years. Says Euromonitor International, research: “Half of the skincare market in India is fairness creams and 60 to 65 percent of Indian women use these products daily. ” Recently, several Indian companies were extending their marketing of fairness creams beyond urban and rural markets.
CavinKare’s launch of Fairever, a fairness cream in a small sachet pack priced at Rs 5, aimed at rural markets where some 320 million Indians reside. Most marketers have found rural markets impossible to penetrate probably due to low income levels and inadequate distribution systems, among other problems. However, HLL is approaching the market through Project Shakti, a rural initiative that targets small villages with populations of 2,000 people or less. It empowers underprivileged rural women by providing income-generating opportunities to sell small, lower-priced packets of its brands in villages.
Special packaging for the rural market was designed to provide single-use sachet packets at 50 paise for a sachet of shampoo to Rs 5 for a fairness cream (for a week’s usage). The aim is to have 100,000 “Shakti Ammas,” as they are called, spread across 500,000 villages in India by year end. CavinKare is growing at 25 percent in rural areas compared with 15 percent in urban centers. In addition to expanding market effort into rural markets, an unexpected market arose when a research study revealed Indian men were applying girlie fairness potions in droves but on the sly.
It was estimated that 40 percent of boyfriends/husbands of girlfriends/wives were applying white magic solutions that came in little tubes. Indian companies spotted a business opportunity, and Fair & Handsome, Menz Active, Fair One Man, and a male bleach called Saka were introduced to the male market. The sector expanded dramatically when Shah Rukh Khan, a highly acclaimed Commenting on the cultural bias toward fair skin, one critic states, “There are attractive people who go through life feeling inferior to their fairer sisters.
And all because of charming grandmothers and aunts who do not hesitate to make altering comparisons. Kalee Kalooti is an oft-heard comment about women who happen to have darker skin. They get humiliated and mortified over the color of their skin, a fact over which they have no control. Are societal values responsible? Or advertising campaigns? Advertising moguls claim they only reject prevailing attitudes in India. This is possibly true but what about ethics in advertising? Is it correct to make advertisements that openly denigrate a majority of Indian people—the dark-skinned populace?
The advertising is blatant in their strategy. Mock anyone who is not the right color and shoot down their self-image. ” A dermatologist comments, “Fairness obtained with the help of creams is short-lived. The main reason being, most of these creams contain a certain amount of bleaching agent, which whitens facial hair, and not the skin, which leads people to believe that the cream worked. ” Furthermore, “In India the popularity of a product depends totally on the success of its advertising. HLL launched its television ad campaign to promote Fair & Lovely but withdrew it after four months amid severe criticism for its portrayal of women. Activists argued that one of the messages the company sends through its “air hostess” ads demonstrating the preference for a son who would be able to take on the financial responsibility for his parents is especially harmful in a country such as India where gender discrimination is rampant. Another offense is perpetuating a culture of discrimination in a society where “fair” is synonymous with “beautiful. AIDWA (All India Women’s Democratic Association) lodged a complaint at the time with HLL about their offensive ads, but Hindustan Lever failed to respond. The women’s association then appealed to the National Human Rights Commission alleging that the ad demeaned women.
AIDWA objected to three things: the ads were racist, they were promoting son preference, and they were insulting to working women. “The way they portrayed the young woman who, after using Fair & Lovely, became attractive and therefore lands a job suggested that the main qualification for a woman to get a job is the way she looks. ” The Human Rights Commission passed AIDWA’s complaints on to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which said the campaign violated the Cable and Television Network Act of 1995 provisions in the act state that no advertisement shall be permitted which “derides any race, caste, color, creed and nationality” and that “Women must not be portrayed in a manner that emphasized passive, submissive qualities and encourages them to play a subordinate secondary role in the family and society. ” The government issued notices of the complaints to HLL.
After a year-long campaign led by the AIDWA, Hindustan Lever Limited discontinued two of its television advertisements for Fair & Lovely fairness cold cream. Shortly after pulling its ads off the air, HLL launched its Fair & Lovely Foundation, vowing to “encourage economic empowerment of women across India” by providing resources in education and business to millions of women “who, though immensely talented and capable, need a guiding hand to help them take the leap forward,” presumably into a fairer future. HLL sponsored career fairs in over 20 cities across the country offering counseling in as many as 110 careers.
Is it ethical to exploit cultural norms and values to promote a product? Is the advertising of Fair & Lovely demeaning to women, or is it promoting the fairness cream in a way not too dissimilar from how most cosmetics are promoted? Will HLL’s Fair & Lovely Foundation be enough to counter charges made by AIDWA?
In light of AIDWA’s charges, how would you suggest Fair & Lovely promote its product? Would your response be different if Fairever continued to use “fairness” as a theme of its promotion? Propose a promotion/marketing program that will counter all the arguments and charges against Fair & Lovely and be an effective program. Now that a male market for fairness cream exists, is the strength of AIDWA’s argument weakened?